MonteRosola, an emerging Tuscan star
MonteRosola is a contemporary winery in the hills close to the hilltop town of Volterra in Tuscany. Volterra may be less familiar to some, so let’s start there, to get a sense of how MonteRosola and their wines fit into this delightful Tuscan landscape.
Volterra lays claim to the title, “the oldest town in Tuscany.” Indeed, it’d been continuously occupied by various peoples since the Bronze Age. Consequently, there are plenty of remains and artefacts from throughout its history. Accordingly, highlights include ancient Etruscan and medieval walls, a Roman theatre and, occupying the highest point, an imposing fortress built by the Medici family. It was conquered and ruled by the Florentines, whose bitter rivals were neighbouring Pisa and Siena. One reason for that is that Volterra has a valuable natural resource in alabaster. Alabaster carves into all manner objects, from Etruscan funeral urns to medieval sculpture and modern objets d’art.
All this makes Volterra both a great place to explore and an ideal base to sample all that Tuscany can offer, whether this is the countryside or the cities, wine, food, history, and the arts. I’ve been fortunate to spend several vacations nearby. They include happy hours in a Volterran wine shop called Enoteca Scali. That’s an excellent place to start any adventure.
Of course, it’s almost impossible to journey far in Tuscany without encountering vineyards. There have been vineyards in and around Volterra for around 3,000 years. However, this place lies between two of the most prestigious wine regions of Tuscany, which are almost equidistant and can be reached in under an hour. Eastwards lies historic Chianti Classico, while the more modern Bolgheri is on the west coast. The reputations of those wines cast a long shadow, often justifiably so.
The MonteRosola Estate
The name MonteRosola means a hill of poppies. It’s found on a breezy plateau, in an area of great natural beauty, at 430 meters altitude, above two valleys filled with ancient woodland. That altitude and the wind keep things a little fresher in summer, and so encourage slower and longer grape ripening. Being near Volterra, the soil is mainly clay, though it also has a high mineral content deriving from alabaster. In the summer heat, this soil forms a hard crust, so reducing evaporation.
The original property, known as La Rosola, featured a stone farmhouse dating back to 1480. It produced grapes, olives, and wheat. In 1999, it was bought and renovated, and winemaking began.
However, the Thomaeus family from Sweden purchased it in 2013 and added a further 120 hectares. Since then, they’ve made significant changes designed to put the MonteRosola winery and Volterra on the Italian wine map. There’s been a considerable investment in time, money, and emotion.
There are now 25 hectares of organic vineyards, all managed manually, with training on the modern guyot system. There’s a summer green harvest to reduce yields too. At harvest, only the best grapes are selected, firstly in the vineyard, and then again at the winery.
As far as grape varieties go, in white, there’s the Vermentino that typifies the Tuscan coast, alongside the more unusual plantings of Viognier, Manzoni Bianco and Grechetto. In red, there’s Sangiovese as you would expect, plus a French contingent; Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, though none of those are strangers in these parts.
There’s a brand new gravity-fed winery. It’s state-of-the-art and mostly underground. Externally, the visible architecture suggests Volterra, a design theme that runs through the business. The winery is sustainable, with particular attention given to temperature regulation through design, and using solar and geothermal energy with heat pumps for heating and cooling. The aim is to use 70% less energy than other wineries in the region.
Also, there is a rainwater harvesting system because, after all, this is a warm climate where rainfall is limited, and all wineries need copious amounts of water.
The wines are made by the highly respected oenologist and consultant Alberto Antonini, whose long CV includes Antinori, Frescobaldi, and Dievole. Antonini consults around the world, with a philosophy to make terroir-driven artisanal wines with minimal interventions. In other words, wines that can offer a sense of place.
Vinification is in tulip-shaped concrete tanks, each with a capacity or 9,600 litres, and fermentation uses natural yeasts. Maturation is either in concrete tanks or in French oak casks. Production is 70,000 bottles per annum, though the intention is to use the new winery capacity to double this over time
Meantime, as the winery is also an architectural and artistic landmark, there is a visitors centre with event spaces suitable for wine tastings and tours. It can also accommodate weddings with up to 200 guests.
MonteRosola makes seven different wines. All come with labels that are neat, precise, and modern. Four of those, (the two whites and two of the reds), are highlighted below.
Because of Covid-19, distribution is temporarily on hold. Hence the prices shown are retail cellar-door in Euro. Direct wine orders are still possible.
Cassero, IGP Toscana Bianco, 2018. 14%
Named after the oldest part of the Medici Fortress in Volterra. It matures on the lees in concrete tanks for 4-6 months. It’s an excellent example of just how sophisticated and characterful dry Vermentino can be. It’s got real palate weight, yet it isn’t hefty, thanks to mineral-laden acidity. The texture is slippery and silken. Aromas of white flowers, and then on the palate, ripe pears, and granny smiths. Drinking nicely, no hurry. A super-stylish wine.
Food-wise, Swordfish or Tuna steaks hit the spot.
Primo Passo, IGP Toscana Bianco, 2018. 14%
Primo Passo means “the first step,” as this was the first white wine produced by the estate. Its a blend of Grechetto, Manzoni Bianco, and Viognier, with maturation on the lees in concrete for 4-6 months. This ingenious blend is an unusual one. Grechetto is mostly grown in Umbria while Manzoni Bianco (once called Incrocio Manzoni 6.0.13) is a modern crossing of Riesling and Chardonnay more common in the Veneto and Trentino. Viognier is well-known in the Bolgheri.
It’s pale, but the colour will deepen with a little more ageing. Aromas are tropical, perhaps pineapply. On the palate, it’s bone dry with a melange of apricot, peach, and lemon flavours. A zesty minerality keeps it all in balance. Drinking well, but I think this may still improve over the next year or two. It would be interesting to see how this ages in the longer term. Well-crafted and highly versatile with food.
Try Salmon or Chicken dishes. €23.00
Mastio, IGP Toscana Rosso, 2018. 14.5%
Mastio is 100% Sangiovese, which sees no oak, with maturation for seven months in concrete tanks. Its name is after the younger part of the Medici Fortress in Volterra. Designed to be drunk young, this is a big powerful wine. Young vines? Vibrant ruby red, unusually deep colour for Sangiovese in purezza. Red cherries on the nose and sour cherry on the palate. The tannins are soft, with some welcome attack from the acidity, which makes it a better bet with food. The warmth of alcohol on the finish lets it down slightly, but in overall terms, it’s dangerously easy to drink.
With food, Mastio is an ideal wine to pair with a gourmet-style pizza.
Crescendo, IGP Toscana Rosso, 2016. 15%
Crescendo is also 100% Sangiovese, but this wine is given 15 months maturation in new and used French oak barriques. Consequently, this is a much more complex expression and one with considerable ageing potential. Older vines? While again, this is a big powerful red wine, this is much more elegant, with an excellent balance between acidity, fruit, and alcohol.
A deep garnet colour, again unusual for Sangiovese. There’s plenty of aromatic complexity. Sour cherries are the primary red fruit, but also other nuances appear as it opens up, toast and almond notes. Bergamot puts in a welcome appearance too. Then, those aromas reprise on the palate. There’s a lot of concentration, while the tannins have polish and ripeness. The oak treatment adds complexity without being intrusive. A long fading finish too. It feels that there’s much more yet to come. Given its Volterran, I’ll also venture to describe it as nicely sculpted. A class act that can hold its own with many a Supertuscan, which is no mean feat.
Food is essential, so roast meats and stews are natural partners. €27.00
There are three other ambitious reds, as yet untried. Those are Corpo Notte (Sangiovese/Cabernet, €38), Canto della Civetta (Merlot, €53), and Indomito (Syrah, €75). All of these get 15 months maturation in French oak. I wonder if Malbec might grow here in the future, given Alberto Antonini’s known expertise with it and Malbec’s affinity with altitude. And perhaps a Rosato could be a useful addition to the range too.
MonteRosola is on an exciting journey. The wines offer a sense of place, are particularly well crafted, and the Italian prices are competitive. Meanwhile, Crescendo is a distinctive expression of Sangiovese that can rival many a fine Supertuscan – no mean feat.
Here is a winery to watch closely, an emerging star with great potential. It’s worthy of any wine tourist itinerary too, particularly once tourism gets going again post Covid-19.
See you there.
Bengt och Ewa Thomaeus
Podere La Rosola 27
56048 Volterra (PI)